Management and Leadership

The Importance of Building Confidence as a Leader

The last few years have taken a toll on the confidence that managers feel in leading their teams, according to numerous studies and anecdotal accounts across U.S. industries. 

Managers confess to feeling ill-equipped in dealing with questions in particular about employee well-being or flexible working arrangements. The expansion of remote or hybrid work has complicated the job further, managers say.

And even before COVID-19 or the rise of work from home, managers were feeling under stress. According to a 2019 survey by Gartner, Inc., nearly 50% of leaders lacked confidence in their ability to successfully manage their responsibilities. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that many leaders are facing even more confidence issues since that survey, due to the large, widespread and continuous changes in the workplace we have seen of late. 

In general, we need confidence so we can challenge ourselves and grow. If we never have the guts to take a chance, we never get to reach our goals. If we never have a strong voice to stand up for ourselves and what we believe, others will take advantage of us or hurt us. Without confidence, we stay the same or we regress.

The same goes for leaders and aspiring leaders. If we never have the confidence to take on new responsibilities, we can’t demonstrate our full value to a team. If we never have the confidence to set and work toward goals, we can’t get anything done. That’s why confidence is perhaps the most important leadership skill—it enables us to consistently use other must-have leadership skills and become more effective leaders.


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What is confidence?

Confidence is trusting in your ability to achieve what’s important to you. In your personal life, that may mean trusting your social skills to put yourself out there and find a romantic partner or trusting your ability to learn new things so you can try a new, challenging hobby. In your professional life, confidence can mean trusting your knowledge of a topic and your speaking skills so you can share your ideas in a business meeting or interview for your dream role.

Having confidence means knowing what you have to offer, understanding what you want to achieve and doing what you need to do to reach your goal. But the key to true confidence is doing this regardless of the potential outcomes and “what ifs.” That’s the central tenet of confidence: trusting in yourself.

Building trust in yourself can take time, especially if you’ve struggled with confidence in the past. That’s where the four pillars of confidence come in:

  • Experience
  • Control
  • Values
  • Reflection

If you abide by these four pillars of confidence, you can develop confidence that is steadfast, consistent and ingrained in your every behavior and choice. This kind of confidence makes for the best, most effective leaders.


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Remember: confidence is a skill

Many people believe that you either have confidence or you don’t. This line of thinking suggests confidence is a born quality, not a learned skill. But in reality, anyone can learn to be confident.

Sure, one child may have confidence while another does not. That doesn’t mean the child who has confidence was “born” with it. It probably means they had a home or school atmosphere that provided them opportunities to challenge themselves, encouraged them to take chances and rewarded them when their efforts paid off. But the child who lacks confidence may not have had those same opportunities or an equally supportive environment to help them build their confidence. Both children can still grow up to be confident adults if they practice the skill.

What it means to follow the four pillars of confidence

If you’re struggling with your confidence, you’re definitely not alone. Maybe you’re only confident in certain situations, so you should develop consistency in your confidence that spills over to other parts of your life. Or, maybe you don’t feel confident in any scenario — that just means you haven’t developed enough confidence to tackle big challenges in your life (yet). 

Experience

When it comes to confidence, experience refers to the previous challenging or uncomfortable situations you’ve handled that prepare you for future challenges and uncomfortable scenarios. Experience also means applying your skills and knowledge in these situations and proving to yourself that you have what you need to address them. 

Let me give you an example. I once had to speak with an employee of mine, who was the first point of contact for our clients, about adhering to the dress code. Having to talk to this person about the fact that what they were wearing wasn’t appropriate in the office was an incredibly sensitive and uncomfortable experience. But after handling that one tough conversation, I proved to myself that I was capable of handling really uncomfortable conversations using my social skills, my understanding of how I wanted (and needed) my company to be perceived by clients and my empathy for other people.

That one experience gave me a boost in my confidence when it came to handling the sensitive aspects of being an employer. But it also spilled over into other aspects of my personal and professional life. If I could have an uncomfortable conversation with this employee using my skills, I could use my skills again to address a sensitive topic with another employee, a client or a loved one in the future.

Here are some ways to use experience to build up your confidence:

  • Be willing to get uncomfortable or challenge your abilities.
  • Take gradual steps to gain confidence over time.
  • Be brave, but take calculated risks that make sense for your abilities and goals.

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Control

Many people base their confidence on whether they achieve their goals or succeed in some way. But what happens to your confidence if you don’t always succeed in what you set out to do? Your confidence ebbs and flows based on whether you got good results each time you took on a challenge. 

Those with unshaken confidence understand what they can control, and they base their confidence on how effectively they deal with the factors that are within their control. 

As a social media influencer, I don’t base my confidence on metrics such as impressions, likes, comments and followers — though metrics are important for identifying opportunities to improve my content. I base my confidence on factors I can control: whether I’m posting content that I like, posting every day, trying new tactics and improving my social media skills.

There are factors that you are partially in control over, but basing your confidence on those factors produces instability in your confidence. Going back to my example about social media, I am partially in control over how many likes my posts get because I am the one posting and I can make the content engaging; what I cannot control is whether the ever-changing algorithm is going to put my post in front of as many people as it did the day before. 

No matter how confident you are right now, instability and inconsistency can be detrimental to the progress you’ve made. When you focus on just the elements that are 100% in your control, that consistency helps you better (and more fairly) judge how well you applied your skills in a challenge, no matter what the results of your efforts were.

Try these tips to focus your confidence on things you can control:

  • Always determine what factors are within your control in any given challenge.
  • Focus less on quantitative measures of success, and stake your confidence on the quality of your actions.
  • Remember that there are many factors that can influence the outcome of a situation, and be kind to yourself if you don’t succeed.

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Values

If confidence is trusting your ability to achieve what matters to you, then you need to identify the values that guide your life. Once you know what values you’re striving for, you can base your confidence on whether you’re working toward goals that align with those values and how well you abide by your values in any given challenge.

Your values might revolve around the kind of person or leader you want to be, the parts of your life you want to prioritize or the kinds of work you want to do as a professional. But your values should also reflect factors within your control — you shouldn’t strive toward a value that’s not attainable or consistent because there are too many factors outside of your control.

For example, many people hitch their confidence to the value of “being the best.” But when someone else surpasses them in the number of successful sales or having the highest-quality work, that person’s confidence goes down because what they based their confidence on is gone. You can’t be the best forever because the line is going to move eventually, and that is not within your control. 

Another value to avoid if you want to build confidence is “being liked.” You can’t really control whether someone likes you or not. You can be equally nice to 100 people, and more than half of them may not give you the time of day for whatever reason that’s not in your control. However, you can base your confidence on the value of “being kind.” If you are equally kind to all 100 people, regardless of how they respond to you, that’s definitely an accomplishment to be proud of. And that means you can have more confidence in your ability to be kind to others because you have that experience.

So, what types of values should you base your confidence on? Values that reflect your progress or your (qualitative) performance provide the consistency and stability you need to improve your confidence. Here are some progress- and performance-based values to consider:

  • Being honest
  • Having integrity
  • Being hard-working
  • Being supportive and a cheerleader for others
  • Being brave and trying new things
  • Staying focused
  • Staying consistent
  • Being kind
  • Being empathetic
  • Having fun
  • Being helpful

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Reflection

In order to build confidence, you have to reflect on your experiences and evaluate how you approached a challenge. It’s not to give yourself a grade; it’s to recognize what you accomplished regardless of whether the outcome of the challenge was positive or negative.

Reflection helps you see how consistently you adhere to your values and how you act more instinctively in alignment with your values as you gain more experience. It’s a chance to pat yourself on the back and remind yourself of the skills, knowledge and experience you use in uncomfortable situations.

For example, you reflect on a tense situation with a client who yelled at you because they weren’t satisfied with the team’s performance. You acknowledge that you remained calm and respectful when this client was rude to you. That’s you developing trust in your ability to remain calm and respectful when someone is combative with you. That trust becomes confidence.

Reflection is also a good way to check in with yourself regarding your values and make sure they still reflect who you want to be. It’s possible for values to conflict with one another in certain situations. For instance, if you value being respectful and standing up for yourself, these values can come into conflict when a client, boss or team member is rude to you. You may want to argue as a way to defend yourself in a scenario but that could be disrespectful. Reflecting on how that situation puts those values into conflict and what you could do to ensure you uphold both values in that scenario can better prepare you for these future challenges.

Reflection is also time to give yourself grace in addition to recognizing the progress you made and the values you upheld. You can use reflection to deter negative self-talk by reminding yourself of the factors that weren’t within your control in a situation. In that previous example, you couldn’t control the client’s intense response to your team’s efforts or the fact that maybe the client was having a bad day and took their stress out on you. 

Taking on uncomfortable experiences, focusing on what you can control and acting in accordance with your values make up the foundations of confidence. But it’s in reflection where you recognize your accomplishments, improve your self trust and build confidence over time.


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